Mobile Applications

Danish iPhone app connects the sighted with the blind

New Danish app, ‘Be My Eyes’ – which connects blind people with sighted volunteers via iPhone –launched at the end of last week and has already caused quite a stir. It has been written about extensively – even by the Daily Mail – and received such an avalanche of downloads on launch day that the servers crashed.

“We have got more server space [now],” explains Line Dybdahl, co-founder of Be My Eyes, “but there are unfortunately still some problems. It is due to the massive traffic which is really amazing - but we are working to find better solutions.” 

Impressively, the live counter on the site shows the number of downloads just keeps on rising. These currently stand at over 72,000 sited volunteers, over 5,000 blind registrants and nearly 12,000 people helped. Dybdahl admits she was “surprised” at the sheer scale of the response but that it is “fantastic” and “warming” to see all the “positive feedback”.

Be My Eyes is a very simple idea that the world needed. It allows volunteers who can give a few minutes of their time to look through a blind person’s phone camera in order to help with ordinary everyday tasks. These are usually simple things like checking the best-by-date on food in the fridge or helping them find something. It is easy feedback if you can see… but could make a huge difference to your life if you’re blind.

It is a truly global solution and it is “really interesting” to see where people come from says Dybdahl. “We have a lot from Denmark - compared to the number of people - but we also started here. Also [a lot from] the US, Sweden, England, Germany and Italy.” However, she goes on to add “we see people from all over the world downloading the app - we are working on some charts”.

The idea for the app was initially presented at Startup weekend in Denmark in April 2012. And it has been nearly two years in the making, with a core team volunteering on the project, ever since. Dybdahl describes the local startup scene as “really good” adding “in Denmark there are many opportunities for startups” and there is “positive culture” where it is “accepted to try to become a successful entrepreneur”. 

Like for many startups though, the problem for Be My Eyes has been raising funding. After one year it finally received money from Velux Foundation and since then has been supported by the Danish Blind Society and software development studio Robocat. The software itself is Open Source and the app is free to use. However funds are due to run out in September 2015 and the company is now exploring different ways to self-sufficient.

“We would really like for all the services to be free, as the whole point is to make help and assistance [for the blind] free and easy to get, but we also have to face reality,” says Dybdahl. “We need to find new funding in order to continue our work. The service which we have now will [always] be free - the code is also open source - but without money it is hard to support the system.”

Any paid version would only be a “premium” model she goes on to add. But she ultimately hopes that this “amazing launch” will help generate funds and sponsors.

In fact, there are a number of developments underway already including a large number of language translations and an Android version (“people have already offered their help for free to help us with this”). The app also includes a feature which enable users to report misuse and a fail-safe, so if a volunteer and blind person do not get on, they will not be matched again. Since the launch these processes have been made “more efficient” and the company is additionally working on making “personalised availability times” and more “customisation”.

“It is difficult for us to say which will be in the next update other than those 20 or so new and updated languages,” says Dybdahl. This is an extremely ambitious project… but then again, it has already come a long way in the hectic few days since the launch.


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